The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126347   Message #2853554
Posted By: Lighter
01-Mar-10 - 06:55 PM
Thread Name: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
Subject: RE: From SF to Sydney - 1853 Shanties Sung?
The American Journal of Music and Musical Vistor (Feb. 25, 1845), p. 53, gives what may be the earliest ex. of an American shanty printed with its tune. After several verbosely chatty paragraphs typical of the period, the anonymous writer offers "Heaving Anchor. A Sailor Song. Furnished by N. C.," a "lad who, several years since, used to fold our papers" and who has "recently returned from a voyage to Smyrna, up the Mediterranean." The text:

Then walk him up so lively,
Ho, O, heave O,
Then walk him up so lively, hearties,
Ho, O, heave O.

I'm Bonny of the Skylark,
Ho, O, heave O,
Then walk him up so lively, hearties,
Ho, O, heave, O.

I'm going away to leave you,
Ho, O, heave O,
Then walk, &c.


The writer then notes that in "rowing, the words are slightly altered, as follows":

Then walk him up so lively,
Row, Billy, row,
Then walk him up so lively, hearties,
Row, Billy, row.

I'm Bunny of the Skylark,
Row, Billy, row,
Then walk, &c.

I'm going away to leave you,
Row, Billy, row,
I'm going, &c.

Sorry I can't reproduce the modal tune, but it isn't much. Its shape resembles that of "Bounty was a Packet Ship," but I wouldn't say they're clearly related. The solo lines, "Then walk him up so lively, hearties" interestingly fit the meter of Dana's "Heave Away, My Hearty Bullies!" (Plus the word "hearty" appears, FWIW.)

What I think is more important than a possible connection to any of Dana's shanties is the sheer primitiveness of this. Of the various shanties "N.C." presumably heard on his voyage to Smyrna, why would he remember this one? Or to put it another way, if tuneful shanties with interesting lyrics were being sung (like "Rio Grande" and "Shenandoah"), why report only this one? Surely the editor of the magazine would have preferred to print a better song. The magazine appeared several years before the possible "shanty boom" of the California Gold Rush, though that too may mean nothing.

It doesn't pay to overinterpret, but one does get the feeling that
"Ho, O, Heave O" (which almost sounds like a Hebridean waulking song)may be close in form to one of the earliest sea shanties "as we know them," and that Dana's lost shanties may have been not much better (a possible explanation of why he didn't offer any lyrics).

Concerning shanties in general, the writer notes that "On the yard-arm, in a clear air, they compose verses and tunes and sing to their companions. It is to be hoped, that the time is coming, when the sentiment of their songs will be such as the good and virtuous will approve."

"On the yardarm" suggests a bunting shanty. "Paddy Doyle"? We may never know.